Affordable housing wins on high-country ballots

Josie Taris
The Aspen Times
The Eagle County Housing and Development Authority has developed six new housing assistance programs since July 2021.
Eagle County/Courtesy photo

A housing market with short supply and high demand does not bode well for a local workforce. That truth is evident in Colorado’s high country, where voters expressed their frustration with the lack of affordable housing and approved a majority of ballot measures aimed at allocating funds to affordable-housing initiatives. 

The high country saw at least 18 ballot measures that somehow addressed the need for affordable housing for local workforces. 

The National Low Income Housing Coalition, a housing advocacy organization, reported that 53% of low income households in Colorado are rent-burdened — or spending more than 30% of their monthly income on housing, as of 2020.

And, Colorado has seen an exponential jump in real-estate prices since the pandemic. According to Redfin, the median home sale price in February 2020 was $403,900. In September 2022, the median price was $549,500.

Both of these statistics feel exacerbated in mountain towns, where the strain on the local workforces is evident in the litany of “help wanted” signs and pleas for affordable housing options in Facebook groups. 

The lack of housing — affordable and otherwise — drives the price hikes. Experts say that the shortage the state is experiencing now started years ago. 

“We saw a 40% decrease in housing production in a decade following the Great Recession. And so, we’re pretty far behind on our housing supply across the board. But, affordable housing specifically has been really negatively affected by that lack of production,” said Brian Rossbert, executive director of Housing Colorado. 

And, even though the Colorado minimum wage will rise to $13.65 in 2023, it does not match the ballooning real estate and rental prices. The NLIHC reported that a minimum wage of $28.64 is needed to afford a two-bedroom unit in Colorado. Both Aspen Skiing Co. and Vail Resorts set their starting hourly wage for non-tipped employees at $20 an hour.

To address the affordable-housing crisis, the government put the issue to voters. Statewide, Proposition 123 passed by a small margin. It will allocate 0.1% of taxable income in Colorado to fund affordable housing programs and assist local governments in increasing their affordable housing stock by 3% each year. 

Many local governments took advantage of HB 22-1117 during the midterm election, or the Use Of Local Lodging Tax Revenue bill from March 2022. It permitted the re-allocation of revenue from the marketing and promotion tax in local marketing districts and lodging tax in counties to fund housing and child care for tourism-related workforces, with voter approval. 

But, most high-country counties, especially those with ski resorts, saw an increase on short-term rental taxes on the ballot. Here is a breakdown of some of those ballot measures:


Proposition 123: The state proposed reallocating 0.1% of taxable income to affordable housing programs and initiatives — 60% of funds to affordable housing financing programs and 40% to programs that support home ownership, support people experiencing homelessness, and support local planning. Local governments that receive funds from Proposition 123 must increase their affordable housing stock by 3% annually. It passed 52.19% to 47.81%.

Ballot Initiatives in high-country counties:


Aspen Issue 2A: The city proposed a sales tax increase on STRs. Lodge-exempt (condominiums) and owner-occupied STRs faced a 5% tax increase. Classic STRS (Airbnbs, etc.) faced a 10% increase. Voters approved it 62% to 38%.

Snowmass Issue 2C: The town proposed re-allocating a portion of its marketing and lodging taxes to workforce housing. It passed 82.7% to 17.3%.


Carbondale Issue 2A: The town proposed imposing an additional tax of 6% sales tax on STRs to fund affordable-housing initiatives. It passed 71.7% to 28.3%.

Glenwood Springs Issue 2C: The city proposed an additional 2.5% sales tax on on lodging, including STRs, to fund affordable-housing projects. It passed 55.2% to 44.8%.


Eagle County Issue 1A: The county proposed a 2% lodging sales tax on STRs, excluding municipalities Avon, Minturn, Red Cliff, Basalt, and Vail. The funds will go to child-care programs and affordable-workforce housing, breaking that down to 10% of tax revenue to tourism marketing and 90% to the housing and child-care programs. It passed 59.56% to 40.44%.

Town of Vail Issue 2I: The town proposed collecting the excess revenue from a 2021 0.5% housing sales tax increase to fund housing initiatives. It passed 73.55% to 26.45%.


Grand Junction Issue 2A: The city proposed increasing the lodging tax from 6% to 7% to support nonprofit and governmental partnerships, plus affordable housing for households that make 80% or less of the area’s median income. It failed with 32.08% of votes in favor to 62.92% against.

Grand Junction Issue 2B: The city proposed an 8% tax on STRs to fund affordable-housing initiatives. It failed with 26.4% votes in favor to 73.6% votes against.


Summit County Referred Measure 1B: The county proposed a 2% lodging tax on STRs on unincorporated areas of Summit County to fund “quality of life” initiatives for locals like affordable housing and child care. It passed 72.7% to 23.7%.

Town of Dillon Issue 2C: The town proposed increasing the town’s debt up to $20 million to support the acquisition and maintenance of workforce housing. It passed 54.8% to 45.2%. 


Steamboat Springs Issue 2A: The city proposed a 9% tax raise on STRs and to put that revenue toward “affordable and attainable” workforce-housing projects. It passed 62.3% to 37.7%.


Gunnison River Valley Local Marketing District Issue 6A: The district proposed re-allocating up to 40% of revenue from the marketing tourism tax on lodging toward affordable and workforce housing. It passed 68.5% to 31.5%.


Chaffee County Issue 1A: The county proposed re-allocating up to 60% of the 1.9% lodging-tax revenue to affordable housing and childcare for the local workforce. It passed 63.8% to 36.2%


Estes Park Local Marketing District Issue 6A: The district proposed raising the lodging tax by 3.5% to fund workforce housing and childcare. It passed 60.85 to 39.15%.


Park County Issue 1B: The county proposed a 2% lodging tax on STRs, excluding Fairplay, which already has its own lodging tax, to fund housing and child care for the tourism-related workforce and marketing within the county. It failed with 41.7% of votes in favor and 58.3% of votes against. 


Fraser River Valley Housing Partnership Issue 6A: The partnership proposed imposing a mill levy at the rate of 2.0 mills to fund and maintain affordable workforce housing. It passed 56.6% to 43.39%.

Town of Grand Lake Issue 2A: The town proposed an additional sales tax not exceeding 15% on recreational marijuana, with half of the revenue to general funds and half to support ‘attainable housing.’ It passed 53.02% to 46.98%. 


Gilpin County Issue 1A: The county proposed a 2% lodging tax on STRs, excluding the cities of Central and Black Hawk, with 10% of the revenue to fund marketing and tourism and 90% to fund a broad swath of initiatives, including workforce housing. It passed 54.8% to 45.2%.

With many local governments preparing for an influx of tax revenue earmarked for affordable housing, advocacy groups like Housing Colorado will be watching to see how the money is spent. 

“We can’t talk about health policy or education policy without talking about housing policy,” Rossbert said. “And so, we really encourage local housing advocates to communicate in ways that root all policy discussions in housing.”

Only in Colorado did an affordable-housing ballot measure appear on the ballot statewide, according to reporting from Colorado Public Radio, despite the housing crisis existing nationwide. But, Colorado’s affordable-housing ballot measures performed well from the state to local levels this election, which heartens Rossbert. 

“These investments send a message to our state and federal elected officials that communities who are affected by this housing crisis, which I would argue are all (communities), are taking steps themselves,” he said. “And now, the impetus is on state leaders and federal leaders to take steps to address the crisis.

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